The day tour of Sremski Karlovci and Novi Sad was fun and educational! Our small group included – guide Stefan, driver George, Katarina from Moscow, and me. It was an active but mellow day stating at 9:30, ending at 5:30. To my delight, there were more locals than tourists. I listened intently to Stefan who narrated historical highlights clearly and thoroughly. I recommend Victor Tours to anyone visiting Belgrade and the surrounding areas. I found them through GetYourGuide an efficient tour booking service I’ve used throughout Europe.
Rivers, Fortresses, Vineyards, and Festivals
Novi Sad is located on the banks of the Danube River surrounded by the awe-inspiring Petrovaradin Fortress. It’s the second largest city in Serbia, after Belgrade. Sremski Karlovci and adjacent rural areas are home to peaceful Serbian Orthodox monasteries, flourishing vineyards, coniferous forests, and agricultural fields. The history of the area dates back to the 14th century.
Serbia is one of Europe’s largest fruit and vegetable exporters. I can attest to the excellent quality of their produce. Vivid green spring vegetation was in full bloom. The weather was mild in the 70s with a gentle breeze in the air.
In Serbian, ‘sad’ means ‘plantation’. Novi Sad’s multicultural character is home to 26 national minorities, so its “architecture and spirit were shaped by many nations”. It’s the venue for south-east Europe’s largest music festival, EXIT, which has earned a global reputation for “diversity and cutting-edge music”.
Out first stop was Krušedol Monastery, the “largest and most important monastery in Vojvodina Province”. It represents the “place where Serbian culture was preserved in the 18th and 19th centuries” and is located in Fruška Gora National Park, which covers a forested area of 96 sq. miles.
Krušedol had the “most valuable treasury of all Fruška Gora monasteries”. The stunning fresco paintings in the narthex and temple are amazing! Completed in the 1500s, their exquisite beauty almost left me breathless. The iconostasis consists of ancient icons from the 16th to 18th century. Preserved monastery treasures were returned to Belgrade in 1946, and are now stored in the Museum of the Serbian Orthodox Church.
To our surprise, Russian bishops were visiting the monastery, and we watched their procession along the grounds into the compound. Religion is an important part of Serbian life, and I’m learning about the Serbian Orthodox Church. The peaceful ambience of Krušedol Monastery was extraordinary.
“It’s said that each building, house, and street in Sremski Karlovci has its own story to tell, for this city was beyond doubt famous for its spirituality and culture of Serbia.”
Sremski Karlovci History and Attractions
We departed the monastery and drove a short distance to Sremski Karlovci, a baroque village on the slopes of Mt. Fruška Gora. The area is part of the Autonomous Province of Vojvodina and the Pannonian Basin in northernmost Serbia. It’s bordered to the south by Belgrade and the Sava and Danube Rivers.
Sremski Karlovci has fascinating history and exceptional architecture created during the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. There are many wineries in the region, and some are noted for their famous Bermet wine, produced exclusively in Sremski Karlovci. It’s interesting to note that Bermet was found on the Titanic.
Branko Radicevic Square is the city center. It’s bordered by three magnificent buildings – the Theological Seminary, Stephaneum Magistrate, and Roman Catholic Church of the Holy Trinity originating from 1768. Eighteenth century baroque doors processed in xylography (wood block printing) make the Catholic church especially valuable. They guard Vojvodina’s oldest pipe organ.
I drank from the historic Fountain “Four Lions” built in 1799 in honor of Sremski Karlovci’s first public water supply system. A legend claims that “whoever drinks from the fountain will return to Karlovci,” so guess I’ll be coming back! We spent a few hours walking the town, admiring architecture, visiting interesting shops, and tasting local wines at Podrum vina Bajilo, a small family winery. Katarina bought several bottles of Bermet as gifts to take back to Russia. Apparently, it’s a coveted wine there.
Apart from being a spiritual center, Karlovci was the “meeting point of Serbia’s cultural elites, poets, and prominent people”. Because of the city’s close vicinity to Austria, and its role with the Viennese Court under the Habsburg Monarchy, Karlovci was known as a “city well ahead of its time”.
With the permission of Holy Roman Emperor Leopold II, the first high school in Serbia was founded in 1791 by metropolitan (patriarchal head) bishop Stephen Stratimirović. Many famous Serbs studied at the school. The most well-known is poet Branko Radičević, whose bust adorns the high school. In his poetry, Radičević expresses simple emotions, such as “joy on a sunny morning and the pleasure derived from flowers”. One of his most famous poems is Students’ Goodbye.
“Karlovci entered the pages of European history in 1699, when a treaty was signed ending the Great War between Austria and Turkey. A century later, on that exact spot, Karlovci’s Catholics built the Lady of Peace Chapel, which still stands proudly today.”
The history of the area is too extensive to cover in a blog post, so I’ve concentrated on the major sites visited and will let photos tell the story. As usual, I’ve included “Wikipedia-like” links for anyone interested in more detail. I took many photos and found online media shots that were too fantastic not to include. I’m still learning my iPhone 12 camera’s features.
Novi Sad History
Human habitation in the territory of present-day Novi Sad “has been traced back to the Stone Age”. Novi Sad was founded in 1694, when Serbian merchants formed a colony across the Danube River from the Petrovaradin Fortress, a strategic Habsburg military post. The city became an important trading, manufacturing, and cultural center. It was devastated in the 1848 Revolution, but rebuilt and restored. Today, along with the capital Belgrade, Novi Sad is a key industrial and financial center.
From antiquity, through the 1st century BC, 5th century, Middle Ages, and 11th to 17th centuries, the region was inhabited by Celtic tribes, Romans, Huns, Byzantines, Germanic tribes (Ostrogoths, Gepids, Avars), West Slavic groups, Franks, Hungarians, and Ottomans!
Near the end of the 17th century, Habsburg rule took over. The edict that made Novi Sad a “free royal city” was proclaimed on 1 February 1748. For much of the 18th and 19th centuries, Novi Sad “remained the largest city inhabited by Serbs”. It was an “influential cultural and political centre,” known as the “Serbian Athens” and “Danube River Gibraltar”.
This is where I will stop trying to recount Serbian history. It’s a subject for experts and historians, including (1) the Serbian Uprising of 1848-49, (2) Novi Sad becoming the capital of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, (3) activities leading up to the formation of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, (4) Serbia during World War I and II, (5) the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, and (6) the NATO bombardment of Serbia during the Kosovo War of 1999. These are all complicated subjects.
Novi Sad Attractions
Petrovaradin is a 17th-18th century fortress and town that dominates Novi Sad. It provides amazing panoramic views of “Serbian Athens” and the Danube River. We walked through some of its underground galleries and tunnels. The complex includes a Clock-Tower, Museum, Academy of Arts, and an Astronomical Observatory and Planetarium. Interesting baroque buildings in Petrovaradin Town include the Monastery of St. Juraj and Church of St. Peter and St. Paul, the birth house of Viceroy Jelačić, a Croatian politician and lieutenant field marshal in the Imperial-Royal Army.
Liberty Square is Novi Sad city center. It’s “encircled by beautiful late 19th and early 20th century architecture”. Outstanding highlights include – City Hall, the Monument of Svetozar Miletić, and the Catholic Cathedral of Mary’s Name. The church’s beautiful white-façade cathedral dominates the square. The churchyard next to the cathedral is the city’s cultural center.
Liberty Square begins with one of Novi Sad’s oldest streets, Zmaj Jovina, leading to many important local landmarks. Uncle Jova Zmaj’s Zone is characterized by “multi-colored houses, palace facades, and a network of side streets and passages”. Zmaj Jovina and Dunavska Streets are the most picturesque part of the pedestrian zone. Famous buildings in the area are the Bishop’s Palace, Serbian Orthodox Cathedral Church of St. George, and Zmaj Jova High School (Serbians refer to high schools as “gymnasiums”). Danube River Park leads to Dunavska Street and includes the Museum of Vojvodina, Museum of Contemporary Art, and a Natural History Exhibition.
In front of Town Hall, there’s a Monument to Svetozar Miletic by famous Yugoslav sculptor Ivan Mestrovic. It was placed at Liberty Square in 1939. At the end of the nineteenth century, Svetozar Miletic (1826-1901) was one of the most influential people in the Habsburg monarchy. He was a delegate, lawyer, newspaper editor, and twice the mayor of Novi Sad. Mestrovic’s impressive bronze sculpting of Miletic is 500m (1,600 ft.) high and mounted on a square pedestal of granite.
Marija Trandafil Square is named after the great patron and donor Marija Popović. The square contains her legacy building, Matica Srpska, the oldest Serbian cultural institution. Orthodox temples Nikolajevska and Almaška are nearby.
Gallery Square accommodates three of the city’s most precious art treasures:
- Matica Srpska Gallery – 16th to 20th centuries
- Pavle Beljanski Memorial Collection – 20th century
- Rajko Mamuzić Gift Collection – post war
Art Nouveau Novi Sad Synagogue was built in the early 1900s by architect Lipót Baumhorn. It’s a memorial to a “large Jewish congregation that suffered a dreadful death during World War II”. The stunning synagogue was converted to a city concert hall. Jewish Street is also home to the newly built Serbian National Theatre.
The Bishop’s Palace is “one of the most beautiful buildings in Novi Sad”. Its “colourful exterior and marvelous architecture decorate Zmaj Jovina, a main pedestrian street”.
Dunavska Street is the city hub and most famous pedestrian area in Novi Sad. Its idyllic baroque architecture, shops, restaurants, and cafés are constantly busy and full of happy people exhibiting the spirit of the city.
European Capital of Culture 2022
In 1985, the Greek and French Ministers of Culture “came up with an idea to pick a European Capital of Culture once a year, to connect people in Europe and raise awareness on common history and values”. This initiative has become “one of the most prestigious events in Europe”. More than 40 European cities have held the title. The City of Novi Sad “decided to bid for the title of European Capital of Culture in 2021, when it was first available to cities and countries outside the European Union”.
“At the end of last year, a formal decision was made by the European Parliament and Council, to postpone the title-year to 2022, due to the coronavirus pandemic. This decision came into force on 1 January 2021, meaning Novi Sad will now be the European Capital of Culture in 2022, together with Kaunas (Lithuania) and Esch (Luxembourg).”
Lunch Novi Sad
We stopped for a late afternoon lunch at Veliki (meaning large in Serbian), a small café recommended by our guide Stefan. The meal was delicious! Local restaurants often feature fresh trout from the Danube River. Lunch can be a slow affair. It usually begins with quince brandy, followed by soup and meat or vegetables with sauce, then the main dish, and finally a dessert! Some dishes are served with famous ‘futog‘, a traditional Serbian cabbage named after the Vojvodina region where it’s grown. Of course, the meal is enhanced by wines produced in vineyards around the Fruška Mountains.
It was a fantastic tour! I want to return and spend some quality time enjoying Novi Sad and hiking Fruska Gora National Park.